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Oh, a magic door! Well, why didn’t you say?

Posted 6th December 2012

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Kryten uses a BBC Micro

It is a truism that fandom has hugely changed over the last twenty years. My favourite example of this is Red Dwarf Series 1: it was only released on VHS in 1993, five years after broadcast. Before then, it was only passed around as grotty nth-generation off-airs. Meanwhile, Red Dwarf X was released on DVD a week-and-a-half after the final episode – and on iTunes throughout the run.

Another thing changed from that time is public domain software libraries. Gone are the days where you could order floppy disc upon floppy disc full of fascinating stuff, and have to wait excitedly for it to arrive. I distinctly remember wanting to order nearly every disc from that BBC Micro public domain library; I could only afford a handful. Now, everything is just a click away.

Out of the whiz-bang demos and, erm, mouse drivers, one disc in particular I did manage to order sticks in the memory. That was BBC PD Disc #165 (formerly a Mad Rabbit PD disc), Red Dwarf Documents“Answers to ‘Frequently asked’ questions about Red Dwarf, a complete episode guide and other text files of interest to the Red Dwarf fan.” (Proper Red Dwarf fans will realise that the disc number should clearly have been #169.)

Red Dwarf Documents menu

This material was not specially written for the disc; all of it was culled from FTP sites or Usenet, mainly alt.tv.red-dwarf. Back then, I barely knew Usenet existed; there was utter magic in reading through material I could never hope to access anywhere else. Even the sight of somebody’s email address at the top of a document was a glimpse of a strange word, so far out of reach, and yet ludicrously intriguing.

These days, that disc is now available to download as a disc image from 8-Bit Software – and it leaves us with a real curiosity. The material is doubly-removed from today’s net – not only is the material now-ancient newsgroup postings or from long-defunct FTP sites, but it was also taken and plonked on a disc… frozen. It does confer, however, an odd state of permanence to the material; a snapshot of a certain time, if you will. Maybe most of the material itself is long-since irrelevant – there are far better information sources out there now – but it is a tiny part of Red Dwarf history.

Let’s take a look at each document in turn. I have linked the document title to its relevant Google Groups or other online archive, so you don’t need to use a BBC Micro emulator to get a feel for the material; it may not be the exact posting that was lifted for the disc version, but the material (barring the odd intro at the start) is the same.

The Comprehensive Episode Guide
An episode guide, complete up until Red Dwarf V. The following description of White Hole – I believe taken from the original Radio Times capsule – still amuses me.

Holly leaves the crew drifting helplessly towards a white hole. Will
Rimmer sacrifice his hologrammatic life to save the rest of the crew?

Frequently Asked Questions About RD
Ah, the famous alt.tv.red-dwarf FAQ! Version 3.0, dated 11th March 1992. FAQs are generally good for a bit of a good old-fashioned “What the fuck was everyone going on about?” 20 years later, and this is no exception:


     	"It's cold outside, there's no kind of atmosphere,
     	I'm all alone, more or less.
     	Let me fly far away from here,
     	Fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun, sun.

     	I want to lie shipwrecked and comatose,
     	drinking fresh mango juice.
     	Goldfish shoals nibbling at my toes,  *
	Fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun, sun,
     	Fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun, sun."

	(*:  There has been some debate over this line -- it is not sang very
	 clearly, and many fans think it is simply "Goldfish ARE nibbling..."
	 However, in the fourth season episode "Meltdown," the end theme is
	 performed by "Elvis" [Clayton Mark], and the word "shoals" is more
	 distinct.  Also, some fans who have seen the episode on closed-
	 captioned broadcasts report that the subtitles do read "shoals."
         A "shoal" is a school of fish.)



	There was no title given in the original broadcast.  The 
	episode opened with a musical instead of the normal title sequence.
	Most British fans learned that the episode's name was "Parallel
	Universe" from its listing in the Radio Times; some American fans
	called it "Tongue Tied", after the song in the opening musical
	performance.  "Parallel Universe" was the most common title
	used, and it has now been confirmed as the official title as 
	printed on the BBC videotape releases.

The idea that there could be confusion over the title is weird these days, but totally understandable at the time.


	The original actor to play Holly, Norman Lovett, decided 
	to leave the series to further his career.  (There is no 
	truth to the rumor that he died.)


        Along with the recasting, the reclassification of Red Dwarf from 
	a Paul Jackson Production to a Grant Naylor Production (making it 
	now officially a production outside the BBC, although it is still 
	filmed at Noel Gay Television) brought with it several changes in 
	the show's "look" between Seasons Two and Three, including changes
	in costumes, sets, and miniatures, including the addition of the 
	StarBug and its hangar bay.

This happened between III and IV, not 2 and III. Also, what the hell “filmed at Noel Gay Television” means is anyone’s guess.

I wouldn’t actually bring this up – not even I’m enough of a twat to get a huge kick out of correcting fan documents from 1992, and God knows there’s enough inaccuracies in the depths of Ganymede & Titan‘s archives – except that I’ve seen this confusion come up time and time again. It’s an easy mistake to make independently, of course – it’s a logical assumption to make that the look of the production changed when the production company did – but I wonder whether this document has been the root of some of the confusion.

        For those of you who are interested in fanzines (unofficial,
	fan-written publications), there is a new one being put out
	by Space Rat Press, entitled "Stasis Leak," including 
	several interviews and episode guides.  The first issue of
	the 'zine costs $10.00 plus $2.00 for postage and handling.
	(Make checks payable to Space Rat Press.)  They seem to have
	obtained permission from Grant/Naylor to do this, which is 
	rare for a fanzine to do.  There was apparently a slight 
	delay getting the first issue out, but it should be finished
	soon.  Write to: 

	P.O. BOX 422
	PARK RIDGE, NJ  07656

I love this kind of thing – I’d never heard of this publication before. Current fandom has almost entirely forgotten about things like this. A quick search on the net provides this fascinating page. Anyone got a copy they’d be willing to scan in – either of this, or any other early Dwarf fanzines that aren’t Better Than Life?

Review of Red Dwarf Series 4
For me, the gem of the disc. For example, here’s the review of Camille:

Character Scores(Not acting ability)
Range 0-1 where 1 is perfect,

Kryten 0.83 Right in keeping with Krytens charater.
Lister 0.70 He seemed a bit too clever for the ships slob.
Cat 0.82 Wonderfully vain, his reaction on meeting himself was excellent
Rimmer 0.63 Not really a Smeg Head at all this week
Holly 0.67 Very few lines but I still prefer The old (Norman Lovitt) Holly
so I suppose I'm a bit biased.

Plot 0.79 A good story,with some interesting Parodys of old movies.
Comedy 0.63 More of a story than a real laugh.

I LOVE that this guy can seemingly rate each character in single percentage terms. There is clearly a VITAL DIFFERENCE between 0.63 and 0.67.

Other than that, there’s loads of contemporary opinion on the series which is fascinating to read. The idea that DNA should be a two-parter, for instance, as “the capacity of the DNA machine was never fully explored”. I don’t agree, but damn if it isn’t a debatable topic. If you’re going to read any document linked to here, make it this one.

The Unofficial Red Dwarf Guide
An episode guide designed to be printed out and bound together. I’d make some remark about that practice being long gone, but I’m sure there are people printing out Google results and stapling them together as we speak.

The thing I find most interesting about this guide is the following:


6/25/92                  RED DWARF GUIDE (season 5)               OTTO HEUER/34

SEASON:     5
EPISODE:    --
TITLE:      High and Low 
AIR DATE:   (never shown)

High and Low was a working title for Demons & Angels, not an entirely separate unaired episode. I remember being extremely confused when I first read this – but also massively dubious that there was an ENTIRE unaired episode. These days, things like this can be cleared up instantly – but back then, I was left to stew.

Star Trek Meets Red Dwarf (Script)
My first exposure to fanfic. It inspired me to write a Red Dwarf VI script entitled “Fire”, where the crew found Red Dwarf, accidentally set fire to it, and had to escape in Starbug again. THAT’S THE JOKE. It’s currently lying buried in a box of quite-possibly-corrupted 5.25″ discs, and is probably better staying there.

Back to this script, and… well, there is one line I enjoyed:

Fade back to outside, The Red Dwarf is now fully through 
the time hole, and is making the Enterprise look slightly 

I suggest we draw a veil over the rest of it. (Oddly, this file is missing from the disc image online, but was definitely present on my copy back in the 90s.)

The Short Red Dwarf Episode Guide
Does exactly what it says on the tin. Actually, I rather enjoy the short episode descriptions here; proof you can sum up any show in a few words.

That’s your lot. If you want to have a play around, download the disc image and a BBC Micro emulator. I warn you, though – you may get stuck in the spiral of downloads I’ve been in over the past couple of weeks…

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P2Pproductions on 7 December 2012 @ 2pm

Great article, John. I vividly recall checking out some of those Red Dwarf features, episode guides, etc. on the LSD Grapevine Amiga disk mags, too. They’re still good reads, twenty years on.

Ann on 8 December 2012 @ 7pm

Ah, the old days of zines and the mail; I didn’t get into Dwarf until the mid-90s when I could see it in the States, but I was into Trek and Back to the Future prior to it. Are you familiar with efanzines.com? You might be able to do a search and find good stuff there. There’s also web.archive.org, aka The Wayback Machine, that likely has some old scanned zines and materials.

Zag on 13 December 2012 @ 10pm

There’s definitely something a bit fascinating about old “PD” disks. I used to love the “readme” files that came with Amiga freeware games where the bored programmer would start gassing on about their cats or what they watched on telly that night or something. The internet spoiled everything because it gave people other places to gas on about their cats and telly and meant that the readme files turned into mundane little things that, shocker, only wanted to tell you how to run the programme or play the game or something.

I bought some real shite off PD libraries, mind. I still remember how cross I was when I bought a disk that promised an exciting text adventure and instead was some dreadful nonsense full of crudely scanned photographs for location graphics and full of shite in-jokes such as “A strange old woman is here!” as a location description accompanying a photograph of what I presume was the programmer’s mum. Cunts.

Tim on 9 February 2013 @ 2pm

full of shite in-jokes such as “A strange old woman is here!” as a location description accompanying a photograph of what I presume was the programmer’s mum. Cunts.

That’s a brilliant in-joke!

PD Disks were excellent. I once had a PD Formula One racing management game for the Amiga that I’d love to find and play again, but it doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the internet. Also, Fish Disks!